Friday, January 28, 2011

Iain Gray. Bute House. But why?

  George Galloway for the Scottish Parliament?  Bring it on. At least he’d liven things up a bit - and no catty remarks at the back, please.  Nor should "Georgeous George", who announced his candidature this week,  be underestimated.  He was the youngest ever chair of the Scottish Labour Party and one of the most vibrant Labour politicians of his generation in Westminster, before he went off to the wilder shores of minority politics. 

    If Galloway is elected on the Glasgow list -  and he only needs around 11,000 votes - he’s made clear he will be supporting the Labour leader Iain Gray on the big issues of the day - on public spending cuts and the constitution.   And truth be told, Labour needs someone with a bit of charisma even though, as a Respect candidate, Galloway won’t be sitting on the Labour benches or taking the party whip.  There is an air of complacency, of entitlement,  about the Scottish Labour Party right now which isn't justified.  Iain Gray is supremely confident of  coasting to Bute House on the wave of opposition to the Tory-led coalition in Westminster.   Ed Miliband has pencilled in victory in the Scottish parliamentary elections in May as the next milestone on his road back to power. It's all too easy.

Does Ed have the balls?

 Politicians in trouble traditionally say that they are resigning to spend more time with their families.  Alan Johnson’s resignation last week over ‘personal issues’ was unusual in that it seemed for once to be genuine.  That’s not to say that there weren’t political reasons also for his departure.  Had the shadow chancellor been performing supremely well in his post, one suspects he might have persuaded himself that his country and his party needed him, and that he had a serious job to do whatever his wife was up to. 

   But either way, it looks like another lucky break for Ed Miliband, following his victory in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election, and the resignation of David Cameron’s communications director, Andy Coulson, over the phone-hacking scandal.  Johnson’s departure gets Miliband out of the hole he had dug for himself by failing to appoint the right man for the treasury job in the first place. That man was, of course, Gordon Brown’s protégé, Ed Balls, the best economic thinker in the shadow cabinet by far.   Miliband minor was left looking faintly ridiculous as Alan Johnson stumbled from gaffe to gaffe, celebrating his own ignorance of economics and stumbling over the rate of employers national insurance.  It was obvious that Miliband had made the wrong call.

   Sending Balls off to the home office was not only a waste of his talents, it showed the new Labour leader to be weak.   Surely, the only reason for sidelining Balls was to prevent him dominating the cabinet on the economy.   Now Miliband has had to accept Ed Balls as his shadow chancellor anyway, and the question everyone’s asking is: has Miliband minor got the balls to handle him?   He has a very dangerous rival now, at his side - arguably a more dangerous rival than Gordon Brown was to Tony Blair.  There may have been no Granita pact, but Balls is now immovable and owes his leader nothing.  If Ed Miliband fails to raise his game as leader, and so far he has been pretty unimpressive, then the ‘other Ed’ will be watching for the main chance. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tommy Sheridan v Andy Coulson. It's not over.

 What a performance.  Gail Sheridan’s declaration of faith in her husband Tommy on the steps of the High Court yesterday was straight out of country and western iconography.  Talk about standing by your man.  Shame Tammy Wynette isn’t still around to sing about it.  

  Gail’s man had just been jailed for three years for lying about his affairs with party followers and his forays into the sleazy world of swingers’ clubs. The kind of places where ‘the carpet sticks to your feet’, as one of his conquests put it.  Yet there she was, without a hair out of place, not a hint of hesitation in her voice, defending him as the peoples’ champion. “The real reason he’s been imprisoned is because he has fought injustice and inequality with every beat of his heart”, said Mrs Sheridan, without a trace of irony. “But it won’t be long before Tommy is back stronger and continuing the fight”.

   It seemed churlish to point out that Sheridan had been jailed, not for fighting capitalism,  but for lying in court over a £200,000 defamation action against the News of the World.  He makes an odd addition to the pantheon of socialist martyrs.  Not sure John McLean would’ve been found promoting the cause of communism in Cupids sex club.  But Gail Sheridan is probably right about Tommy living to fight another day.  Being jailed after losing a battle with the mighty Murdoch mafia is no great blot on any socialist’s character.  He lied about his private life, certainly, but so did President Clinton.

Monday, January 17, 2011

It's over for the bankers. No, Really.

I’d hoped to avoid writing about banksters for a while, but how can you?  Prime Minister’s Question Time was once again dominated by bankers behaving badly following, the news that Eric Daniels of Lloyds group, is getting his snout in the trough to the tune of £2m. Playing catch up with that other state-owned banker boss, Stephen Hester of RBS, who has awarding himself £2.3 million in bonuses.   Really, how can you ignore this kind of thing?  These people are engaged in legal theft - their banks only exist because of public subsidy. If anyone should be getting bonuses, it’s the tax-payers. 

   I keep reading headlines about how it’s time to stop “banker bashing”.  That it might damage the City of London’s reputation if we keep harping on about their bonuses.  But I hardly think reputation comes into it: bankers clearly have no reputations left to defend. I can’t think of any group in society which as so unconcerned about their public image, so unwilling to mend their ways. Even paedophiles feel remorse. 

Old and Sad: Liberal Democrats down the plughole

“At least we didn’t disappear down the plug hole”, remarked the Liberal Democrat President, Tim Farron the last week after the Oldham and Saddleworth by-election.  True, but I fear Liberalism is going doon the stank nevertheless. The Tories came third, but David Cameron was the real winner.

    There was very little for the Liberal Democrats to celebrate in ‘Old and Sad’.  Had it not been for Tory tactical voting, they  wouldn’t have made it even to second place.  They lost by 3,500 votes in a seat where the sitting Labour MP had been forced to resign because he lied to the voters, and where Labour’s majority over the LibDem candidate, Elwyn Watkins, was only 103 votes.  That’s no kind of success. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Banker bonuses? Give them to everyone.

There's a very simply answer to the problem of banker bonuses.  Give them to everybody.  No, I'm serious.   The banks are only in existence because of the hundreds of billions in state support.  Had it not been for the guarantee of public money to back up their dodgy asset base, not just direct capital injections but liquidity, asset swaps and loans, even the nominally private banks like Barclays would have gone under in 2008 because the entire financial system would have collapsed and their assets would have been valueless.   

   Very well then.  In future, when the banks hand themselves bonuses, the public should get equal, if not greater bonuses for having underwritten their profits in teh first place.  It's only what the banks would do were the situation reversed, and they were lending to government.  They call it interest.  So seven billion in bonuses  to investment bankers?  Seven billion to us.  Twenty billion in City salaries?  Twenty to us.  

  Such would be the condition for any future public support for banks.  If some banks reject this they can reject this arrangement and go out on their own, but they would really be on their own.   Then we would see what the state guarantee is really worth in the market where it counts.  Can you imagine anyone putting their money in a bank today that would have no future access to any public support?  Exactly.  They would be out of business tomorrow.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Is the financial crisis really over?

   Shake off that New Year hangover; it’s time to party.  After two and a half years of unmitigated gloom, economists and commentators are entering 2011 full of optimism. At least,  the 78 business analysts and economists polled by the Financial Times this week are.  They’ve concluded that there is no double dip recession and that we are on the way to an export-led recovery that will astonish Europe and gob-smack the G8.  Forget sovereign debt crisis, bankrupt banks, inflation, they’re history.   The stock market is booming, growth has returned and manufacturing orders are storming ahead thanks to the low pound. 

    Now,  they don’t call it the dismal science for nothing - economists are usually pessimistic to the point of self-harm. So why are they suddenly looking on the bright side or is the Financial Times on the waccy baccy?   Well the short answer is that the City of London is making serious money again.  Zero interest rates and the fear of governments defaulting on their debts, has suddenly made the stock market look a relatively safe bet.  Money has been piling out of  bonds and into equities, pushing the FTSE index of leading shares back up to 6,000 over Christmas - up nearly a quarter since the recession bottomed.  This makes financiers very happy because they rake in large sums in commissions from buying and selling shares.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Predictions 2011

  It’s prediction time again, and another chance for political commentators to fall flat on their faces.  Who could have forecast, twelve months ago, that the Liberal Democrats would be in government by now?  Or that the Scottish transport minister would resign because he got the weather forecast wrong?  Or that Vince Cable would become public enemy number one for introducing  £9,000 tuition fees in England? 

    Reality often turns out to be far more bizarre than anyone could have imagined, which is the fun of crystal ball gazing.  Who could have imagined that the stock markets would boom in 2010, even as a sovereign debt crisis was sweeping Europe?  Or that Scotland’s referees would go on strike?  Or that Ed Miliband would beat his brother David Miliband in a knife edge race for the Labour leadership?   Prediction is a mug’s game, but here are mine.